What a Surprise: Phil Fulmer Out-Coached in Tennessee Defeat

Scott Taylor@@Taylor_SportsCorrespondent ISeptember 3, 2008

Normally when a team loses to UCLA, it isn’t a big deal.

That isn’t the case for Tennessee after losing to UCLA Monday night.  That is because UCLA was down to its third string at many positions on offense and had a young offensive line.

Even with these problems, I still thought the Bruins would be able to hang in the game with their defense.  But even during the game, I was never worried about the Vols losing until they scored a touchdown with two minutes left, which left too much time for that potent offense.

All of the talk before the game was about how good the secondary of Tennessee was.  That had me scratching my head after an average performance a year ago, and I was right.

Sure, the Vols have a great safety combination, but the cornerbacks are weak, especially without a suspended Brett Vinson.  They proved how bad they were when they consistently gave the UCLA receivers five yards to catch short passes and make Kevin Craft look like a Heisman quarterback.

That leads me to the big conclusion of the game: The Vols were out-coached.  With supreme talent, that is basically the only way they could lose the game.

The intensity just wasn’t there throughout the game, and it looked like the Vols took UCLA lightly.

I have given Phil Fulmer the benefit over the years because he won a national title—but I have had enough of him now.  This turned into another prime example of being a bad coach when he is favored.

No one expected the Vols to win in 1998 after Peyton Manning left and the Vols won.  With everyone back in '99, it looked like the Vols could repeat until a collapse at Arkansas.

Tennessee was a 16-point underdog to Florida in 2001 and did the unthinkable by winning in the Swamp.  It turned around the next week as the heavy favorite and lost to LSU.

The Vols started No. 3 in 2002 and 2005 and lost five and six games, respectively.  They were an afterthought in 2004 and '07 and won the SEC East, including upset wins over UGA both years.

This leads me to believe that the Vols will still be all right this year flying under the radar in the SEC, especially after this loss.  They will probably upset a team currently in the top 15.

But that isn’t good enough anymore.  You can’t keep losing games you should win, especially when you have to play in the SEC.

Now Vols fans already have to wait until next year, as it is improbable that the Vols will run unscathed through the SEC and advance to the national title game.

I was once a big fan of defensive coordinator John Chavis.  He always came up with some great blitz packages and had a fast defense that was underrated with the good offenses.

That has changed the past few years as the defense has fallen into mediocrity.  There is no reason to give up 20 offensive points to UCLA, including two fourth-quarter drives.

With a young QB, Chavis should have sent in the pressure on nearly every play (the way UCLA did to UT) and forced Kraft into more turnovers than the four he committed in the first half.

Instead, the Vols gave a big cushion to the receivers while Kraft could take his time to throw.  There was no reason not to blitz, especially with the strong safeties.

Chavis’ thinking was probably not to give up the big play and make Kraft work down the field.  It is that kind of conservative nature that the Vols have been known for under Fulmer, which has cost them more and more games over the years.

Offensively, I miss David Cutcliffe.  Sure, his system was far from perfect, but he used his QB’s strengths.  Jonathan Crompton has good mobility, but the casual fan wouldn’t know that based on this game, as there were no roll-outs and he sat in the pocket.

On top of that, UCLA continued to blitz up the middle, making it necessary to get Crompton out of the pocket so he could succeed in his second start.  Instead, he was pressured constantly and lost his confidence as the game went on and was forcing the ball against the rush.

As Colorado coach Dan Hawkins said, “This ain’t intramurals.”  All you have to do is change intramurals with the FCS (I-AA) and you get my point.

Maybe at Richmond you can get away with sitting in the pocket all day, Dave Clawson, but not in major college football.  He never called the right play when he needed to.  There would be a six-yard run on first down, and then he would call passes the next two downs.

Gerald Jones lined up at QB a whole three plays, and two of those went for big gains.  Why wasn’t he used more?

It was plain and simple one of the worst called games on both sides of the ball that I have ever seen, and I am not one to complain about play calling very often.

The other calls that were bad came from the refs.  I have no idea how Pac-10 refs could be working the game when its team is hosting, but it sure worked out for the conference.  Penalties were one-sided for most of the game, and two bad calls were made on goal line plays.

They stated that replays showed that UCLA’s RB had his forward momentum stopped in play, so there was no safety.  I was left wondering when he was ever in the field of play, as he was lined up in the end zone and never fully left it.

UT could have used those two points as it ended up not scoring after getting the ball on UCLA’s 25.

Then there was the running touchdown for UCLA a bit later when the RB clearly never broke the pylon.  I think the ref was looking at the color of the jersey rather than the pylon as the runner dove wide right of the pylon.

I am not the only one who feels this way, as Pat Forde mentioned the same thing in his "Forde Yard Dash," comparing it to the OU-Oregon ref debacle in 2006.

There is a good chance that the Vols would have won if the game was officiated fairly, but they didn’t deserve to win the game anyway.  The game should have never been close enough where the refs could decide the outcome.

That is why the finger has to be pointed at Fulmer.


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